President Joe Biden meets with Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, in the Oval Office on Monday to discuss a Republican proposal for a coronavirus relief package. Associated Press/Evan Vucci

A group of 10 Republican senators, led by Maine’s Susan Collins, met for two hours Monday evening with President Biden to discuss its alternative pandemic stimulus package, which totals less than one-third of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan put forth by the president.

Collins told reporters gathered outside the White House that the meeting was “excellent,” and produced a “frank and very useful discussion.”

“I wouldn’t say that we came together on a package tonight. No one expected that in a two-hour meeting,” she said, adding that the group would continue conversations with the president and his economic team. Neither Collins nor her Republicans colleagues took questions.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, in a statement, called the meeting “substantive and productive.”

“While there were areas of agreement, the president also reiterated his view that Congress must respond boldly and urgently, and noted many areas which the Republican senators’ proposal does not address,” Psaki said.

Meanwhile, Senate and House Democrats on Monday introduced a joint budget resolution, the strongest sign yet that they are prepared to pass the president’s more robust plan, or something close to it, with or without Republican support if necessary. Psaki’s statement also indicated that the president wants bipartisan support but is not willing to budge substantially.

“The president also made clear that the American Rescue Plan was carefully designed to meet the stakes of this moment, and any changes in it cannot leave the nation short of its pressing needs,” she said.

Sen. Susan Collins speaks after meeting with President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris in the Oval Office on Monday to discuss a coronavirus relief package. Associated Press/Evan Vucci

Details of the Republicans’ $618 billion proposal were released Monday morning. They include:

$160 billion for direct COVID-19 response, including money for vaccination distribution, for expanding testing, for rebuilding the national stockpile of personal protective equipment and for relief to hospitals. This is similar to what Biden has proposed.

$130 billion for unemployment insurance, which would provide an additional $300 per week in benefits to recipients in every state through June 30. That’s $100 per week less than Biden’s proposal.

$40 billion in additional funding for the Paycheck Protection Program, which aids small businesses that have lost revenue because of the pandemic. The Biden Administration’s plan calls for the creation of a new program for small business owners.

$20 billion in funding for K-12 schools to help them reopen safely and another $20 billion for child care block grants. Biden has proposed dramatically more funding for schools – $170 billion.

An estimated $220 billion to be used for direct stimulus payments to individuals in the amount of $1,000 per person and $500 for each dependent child. However, payments will only be made to individuals earning less than $50,000 or couples earning less than $100,000. Also, individuals making between $40,000 and $50,000 or couples making between $80,000 and $100,000 will receive gradually lower payments. Biden’s plan includes full individual payments of $1,400 for individuals making up to $87,000 or couples making less than $174,000 and graduated payments for families making up to $300,000. An estimated 29 million more people would get payments under his plan but it was cost $465 billion.

Included in the Biden plan – but not the Republicans’ proposal – are: $350 billion in aid to state and municipal governments; $25 billion in rental assistance for low- and moderate-income households who have lost jobs during the pandemic; and a proposal to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour and to end the tipped minimum wage and the sub-minimum wage for people with disabilities. among other things.

In an interview Monday afternoon with Maine State Chamber of Commerce President Dana Connors, Collins touted her relationship with Biden, with whom she served many years in the Senate, and said she hopes a bipartisan relief bill is obtainable.

“We are going into this with good faith and the president recognizes that,” she said, while also pointing that some Democrats “want a more partisan approach.”

Collins said there are provisions in the president’s proposal that are worthy of consideration, but she doesn’t think they belong in an emergency bill. She also said she’s not comfortable with a high-income threshold for individual stimulus payments because she doesn’t think those people have been harmed financially during the pandemic.

“We need those funds to be targeted,” she said.

With the Senate divided between 50 Democrats (if the two independents – Maine’s Angus King and Vermont’s Bernie Sanders – are counted) and 50 Republicans, having 10 Republicans support a funding package would theoretically push it above the 60-vote threshold needed to avoid a filibuster. However, Democrats have said they are prepared to use the budget reconciliation process, which would require only a simple majority for passage.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, told reporters Monday that he and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi are moving forward on a budget resolution that would need only 50 votes but that doesn’t mean they won’t continue to negotiate with Republicans.

“Congress must pursue a bold and robust course of action. It makes no sense to pinch pennies,” he said, according to Politico.

King, in a statement to the Portland Press Herald, said he supports efforts to produce bipartisan legislation, but called the Republicans’ proposal, “insufficient to address the range of challenges we face.”

“I hope it reflects a floor and not a ceiling for their efforts,” King said. “At roughly thirty cents on the dollar to President Biden’s proposal, I feel that the package falls short in several important areas, including aid to school districts struggling with increased coronavirus costs and the serious need to provide additional funding to those states and localities which have been negatively impacted by the economic downturn.”

Republicans have cautioned against aggressive spending so soon after the most recent bill, totaling $900 billion, passed in late December. Much of that money is still being disbursed. Psaki, however, has said the president views the bill that passed in December as a catch-up to months of inaction following the passage of the first rounds of pandemic relief back in April and May. The Biden administration also said it wants to avoid the mistake of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which has been viewed in hindsight as too small.

Meanwhile, a Congressional Budget Office forecast released Monday predicted that the U.S. would bounce back over the next several months, even without more aid from Congress. Employment levels, however, may not fully recover until 2024. Much of the recovery could hinge on vaccination efforts.

In addition to Sen. Collins, the other Republican senators backing the proposal are: Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Mitt Romney of Utah, Rob Portman of Ohio, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Todd Young of Indiana, Jerry Moran of Kansas, Mike Rounds of South Dakota, and Thom Tillis of North Carolina. All but Rounds attended the White House meeting.

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